Picky Eating vs Sensory Avoider: What's The Difference

I often am asked What is the difference between a Picky Eater and a Sensory Avoider? Let's talk about it!


Picky Eaters tend to like the same foods. They stick to what they like and are not big on trying new foods. However, when they do try new food, it will not impact their sensory system.


However, if a child with Sensory Issues tries a new food, it can cause a complete sensory overload and turn into a completely different situation. It can cause a meltdown or anxiety and ruin an entire day. Why? Underlying sensory issues can have a direct impact on a child's food intake. If a child displays signs of being under or over-responsive towards certain tastes, touches, or smells, then they will avoid foods that have those same qualities.


A child who displays a heightened sensitivity towards tactile input will react more intensely toward a piece of orange than a typical child. The child might say “it's too sticky”, and as a result, they don’t want to touch it let alone eat it.


So, how do you get a child who won’t touch food to eat it?


I have been working with children for the past 22 years who fit into this category. The first thing I explain to every parent/caregiver is that each child is different. It is our job to find out the best way to reach them. If a child does not want to touch sticky textures, I have to make a plan to help them learn to tolerate texture.


To start, I will have the child warm up with some gross motor movements such as an obstacle course, scooter board activity, or suspended equipment such as a platform swing. Once I see they are calm, alert, and ready, I work on introducing a textured object such as kinetic sand, dried rice, or a dried bean box. I have the child search for objects (toys or puzzle pieces) to help the focus on the task rather than the texture. Over time as the child gets used to the textures, I change to Play-Doh, slime, Shaving cream, etc. I have seen a positive correlation between improved eating after a child begins to tolerate various textured play.


Another great tip is to have your child help prepare the food. Washing, peeling, cutting, plating, and serving the food are all great ways to have your child indirectly get used to the sights, touches, tastes, and smells of various textures.


If your child is a Picky Eater or Sensory Avoider you want to improve their food intake to make sure they are receiving the proper nutrition they need to grow!

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